Cell phones need to go when students are biking

Nissans’s slogan, “Innovation that excites” takes on new meanings with the gadgets of today’s digital age, including but not limited to: wireless earbuds that broke internet meme culture, virtual notepads that substitute classic paper and pencil while combating rapid deforestation, smartphones that ignite controversy with headphone jack deficits and trypophobia-triggering cameras. 

These battery-powered assets seem so innate at times, with our thumbs perpetually texting, our ears constantly clogged and our eyes relentlessly focusing on our pixelated screens. In our generation, this obsessive tendency has seeped into every aspect of our daily routines, whether it’s sitting in a 9 a.m. lecture, eating in the dining hall or strutting down Trousdale. Or, perhaps, biking and skateboarding down Trousdale Parkway. 

Texting while riding plagues USC’s campus like a viral internet challenge, where students sporadically blind themselves from their surroundings while gripping a single handlebar. On a campus as densely populated as USC, texting while riding is especially concerning considering the heavy traffic flow in specific parts of campus. In fact, due to an increase in on-campus collisions since last year, DPS implemented the Hahn Plaza bike ban earlier this semester. 

While the current bike ban addresses traffic congestion on campus, it neglects distracted riding as a contributing factor. To diminish this safety hazard and toxic mannerism, USC should further extend the Hahn Plaza bike ban by prohibiting the use of cell phones on motorized scooters, skateboards and bicycles alike. 

Students should take it further, though — instead of treating it as an obstacle, we should embrace this prohibition as a reinforcement mechanism and an opportunity to momentarily disconnect from technology. 

Distracted biking has gained widespread attention in major cities in light of the distracted driving epidemic over the past decade. In an observational study conducted in Boston in 2016, around one-third of observed bikers exhibited distracted behavior, which included having earbuds in ears and electronic objects in hand. Because of the prevalence of this behavior, cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Austin have passed laws prohibiting bicyclists from using cell phones or texting, with many others still working to gain legislative traction that will hopefully enact such prohibitions. 

On college campuses especially, students seem to ignore the research that stresses the embedded hazards in operating vehicles with divided attention — such as the increased likelihood of collisions and missing stop lights and signs — simply because biking and skating aren’t the same as driving a car. Still, texting while biking is analogous to texting while driving because it puts both the driver and the people in the surrounding environment at risk. 

In addition to the safety concerns prompted by texting while biking, this habit highlights phone addiction as a harmful facet of this generation. Today, college students downplay obsessive cell phone use to such an extent that its effects on mental health are normalized and blatantly dismissed. Yet, numerous studies suggest a strong association between high cell phone usage and sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression, as well as poor social skills. With rates of depression rising by nearly 63% for teens and 47% for millennials between 2013 and 2016, cell phones could be the culprit. 

However, this refusal to put our phones down for an objective safety hazard perpetually disregards mental well-being as being less important than scrolling through an Instagram feed on a three-minute bike ride to class. Although cell phones are certainly not the only factor for worsening mental health, students must acknowledge their impact to understand that texting while biking is not a matter of learning how to multitask better. Conversely, it emblemizes this robotic, disconnected generation, complete with people willing to put themselves and others at risk because of a cell phone dependency.  

Going forward, instead of maintaining the same detrimental habits, students should embrace a prohibition on texting while biking. With this kind of reinforcement, students could take a step toward fostering a safer environment and perhaps toward lifting the culture of cell phone dependency on campus at large. 

It could be an opportunity to soak in our surroundings and ground ourselves in these volatile and spiraling times. It could be a new medium for resonating with the unfamiliar and unlatching from the unhealthy comfort of technology. 

It could even inhibit this digital age from becoming even more of a digital nightmare.